Holistic Therapy

Holistic means whole, and holistic therapy refers to a wide range of therapies that aim to treat all parts of a person. The principle of holistic therapy is that a person is more than just their mind and that the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of a person are all equally important. Holistic therapies engage all of these elements, promoting healing and growth by incorporating physical and spiritual practices into the suite of therapeutic treatments that focus on healing the mind.

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Why holistic therapy for addiction treatment?

Treating addiction itself is extremely important, and is a significant focus of inpatient rehab and addiction recovery treatment. However, it can be hugely beneficial to supplement and boost this recovery with therapeutic practices that focus on your body and spirit.

The concept of recovery has evolved to include more than just abstaining from drugs and alcohol. It also includes a broader vision of well-being, including health, happiness and a meaningful life. These aspects make long-term recovery more likely, and holistic therapies give us ways to access practices that foster them.

Long-term drug and alcohol addiction damages the body. Looking after and healing your body helps you to feel strong enough to face the mental and emotional challenges of the addiction recovery process.

12-step programmes include the concept of involving a higher power in your recovery. The programme is agnostic about what higher power you choose, but if you are following a 12-step programme, engaging in holistic therapy with a spiritual dimension can help you tap into your chosen higher power. Engaging in holistic treatment while going through a 12-step programme can help you feel more connected and empathetic and give you access to sources of strength you may have been unaware of.

The different types of holistic therapy for addiction treatment


The benefits of exercise for addiction treatment are numerous – a stronger body, increased focus and mental discipline boosting your dopamine production and the release of endorphins.

Exercise can take many forms and can be as gentle or intense as your body allows. It can incorporate spiritual concepts such as yoga or purely physical – swimming, running, and lifting weights. Exercise helps heal the body and increase your connectedness to it.

Exercise also helps to regulate some things that leave you vulnerable to relapse, such as disturbed sleep and low mood. It also helps you to think more clearly, which is extremely beneficial for engaging in addiction therapy and having a clearer idea of the behaviours and thoughts that have led to addiction in the first place.

Systematic literature reviews have found significant positive benefits from exercise in addiction recovery, particularly when used as part of the inpatient rehab process.

Art therapy

Art therapy harnesses healing via creation and expression. Creating a piece of art and allowing yourself to get caught up in the process lets you express complex emotions. Making art can help you to find out things about yourself that you didn’t know and discover new passions you weren’t previously aware of. The sense of achievement from creating a piece of art or mastery from learning a new technique can boost your confidence and be very healing.

Creating a piece of art involves both the mind and the body working together, and the act of creating something new can have a spiritual aspect to it.

Mindfulness and meditation

Mindfulness is the art and practice of being present, and it appears in many recovery treatments, including traditional ones like CBT. Mindfulness encourages you to sit with uncomfortable feelings without judging them. It is common in addiction to numb yourself to painful emotions through drugs and alcohol – this is a central mechanism of addiction. Meditation and mindfulness can help you to develop the ability to stay present and grounded with painful emotions.

Finding new ways to handle difficult feelings and working on increasing your tolerance to them is an important part of recovery. Mindfulness and meditation let you face your painful feelings, rather than running away from them or drowning them out with alcohol or substances. ​

Yoga and breathwork

Traditional yoga practices are increasingly being integrated into secular treatment for addiction, and for good reasons. Yoga is more than just body movement – skills, insight and self-awareness learned from regular practice incorporate mindfulness and strengthen the connection between your body and mind, and studies have found it to be an effective intervention for beating addiction.
Like many holistic practices, yoga can be a spiritual practice, incorporating philosophy, ethical principles and practices that help to create a more meaningful life.

Gratitude and praying

Gratitude has been shown to play an important role in addiction recovery. This can be expressed through prayer for people with a religious or spiritual practice. However, gratitude does not have to be religious or spiritual and can be practised through journaling, affirmations or quiet reflection.
Gratitude has been studied in relation to addiction recovery and has been found to constitute a ‘recovery capital’, which is a resource that can be drawn upon as a source of strength that supports recovery. Gratitude has the capacity to foster positive emotions and relationships, promote better coping mechanisms and enhance the quality of life.

Traditional therapies

The mind is part of the greater whole, and traditional therapies such as CBT, DBT, and group and family therapies are part of the holistic process. Holistic therapy is intended to work as part of a whole suite of recovery tools, and progress in traditional therapy is a major component of the holistic process of healing.

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Benefits of holistic therapy for addiction treatment

Holistic therapy approaches addiction treatment by considering the whole person—mind, body, and spirit. It focuses on addressing the underlying causes of addiction and promoting overall well-being. Here are some potential benefits of holistic therapy for addiction treatment:

  • Comprehensive approach: Holistic therapy considers various aspects of an individual’s life, including physical, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being. This comprehensive approach aims to identify and address the root causes of addiction.
  • Treating more than just the mind: Being addicted to drugs or alcohol for a long time can leave your body damaged and your spirit empty. Treating the addiction itself is crucial, but it’s important not to neglect the body or spirit, which can be a source of comfort and strength.
  • Spiritual fulfilment and access to a higher power: A feeling of emptiness can sit at the heart of addiction. For some people, rekindling or discovering a spiritual practice can give them something greater than themselves to live for, and to draw upon as a source of strength and meaning.
  • Healing the body: Addiction can make you feel powerless. Working with your body and helping you feel at home within it can make you feel stronger and more grounded. It can imbue you with a sense of force and purpose that is a powerful antidote to the hopelessness experienced in addiction.
  • Cultivation of coping skills: Holistic therapies provide individuals with a toolkit of coping skills that extend beyond traditional addiction treatment methods. These skills can help individuals navigate life’s challenges without resorting to substance abuse.

It’s important to note that holistic therapy is often part of a comprehensive treatment plan and may be integrated with other evidence-based approaches for the most effective results.

Accessing holistic therapy for drug abuse

If you are accessing therapy for your addiction through inpatient rehab, you will likely be offered some form of holistic therapy in addition to the other treatments offered at the clinic. These can vary greatly between different centres, so it is a good idea to ask which ones are available at any you are considering.

Outside of inpatient rehab, holistic therapies, treatments, and practices are some of the most accessible tools for recovery. Local communities often have low or no-cost exercise, meditation, mindfulness and yoga classes. Attending religious services, joining a local group dedicated to exercising together or practising gratitude via journaling are all excellent ways of helping your recovery process. Using every tool available to you, in combination with addiction-focused therapy, will help you on your journey to recovery.

Keeping an open mind

Holistic therapy can be as spiritual or as practical as you want it to be. We live in a culture with a lot of cynicism and hostility to spiritual practices, and it can be tempting to write off holistic therapy as unscientific. However, holistic therapy does not have to be spiritual if that’s not something that appeals to you, and many holistic therapists have been studied and found to have good evidence to back up their effectiveness, such as exercise, practising gratitude, and mindfulness.

Get help with your addiction

If you’re struggling to cope with an addiction, support is available. If you’re considering holistic therapy or want some advice on the best kind of therapy for you, reach out to an addiction specialist for more information.

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​​How is holistic therapy used for addiction treatment?

Holistic therapy for drug abuse in the context of inpatient rehab treatment will be offered as a complementary therapy that works alongside more traditional forms of therapy. Holistic practices can be separate from these therapies or can form a component of them, such as mindfulness.

Which holistic therapy should I choose?

You do not have to choose just one holistic therapy! Choosing the right one, or ones, for you may be a process of trial and error and figuring out which ones resonate with you. Some people may feel very uncomfortable at first when trying to sit with painful emotions during yoga or meditation and may feel more comfortable using exercise to calm their minds. Others may find exercise too hard on their bodies at first and want a gentler, slower practice like art therapy or mindfulness.

What is the most effective holistic therapy for addiction?

This is extremely individual, and there is no clear answer. While many holistic therapies have evidence backing them up as effective treatments, comparative studies are thin on the ground. In addition to this, it will completely depend on which ones are meaningful to you, relevant to your values and interests, and where you are in your recovery journey.